She’s spent much of her career working behind the scenes. But, as CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition, Lucie Caswell is a key voice for artists amidst the upheaval of the streaming revolution, the Copyright Directive and much more. Music Week finds her ready, finally, for the spotlight…
Lucie Caswell is suddenly the centre of attention. As her Music Week photoshoot takes place on the not-usually-particularly-mean streets of London’s Borough Market, passers-by gawp as she poses, one older woman even declaring confidently that she “recognises her off the telly”.
Before we have time to contemplate which heavyweight production she thinks Caswell may have been starring in, some real life drama unfolds before our eyes in the form of a ‘moped mugging’ as two lads on a scooter snatch a phone from a tourist and speed off.
Caswell takes it all in her stride, but she is not used to such high-profile excitement. By her own admission, she’s “always been the backstage person”, never front of house. Which makes her current role – speaking and campaigning on behalf of tens of thousands of artists, some of whom play on the biggest stages every night – somewhat ironic.
“But everything I’ve done comes from the music, and those who make it and those who perform it,” she notes. “That’s the heart of the job.”
Her dad was in the Navy, so she spent her childhood moving from foreign location to foreign location, quickly learning to blend in at every new stop. Her passage into the music business came at university in Southampton, where she worked in the Ents department at gigs and also helped put on shows at legendary local venue The Joiners.
Caswell performed herself, as a dancer and choreographer, but when she moved to London, she carried on putting on small shows and worked for independent publishers such as Zomba and Blue Mountain. Later, she worked for PRS For Music in digital licensing and set up her own licensing consultancy, where clients included Coca-Cola, Deezer and Electric Jukebox (“If you can capture a new market then why wouldn’t you, frankly?” she says of the latter, which never quite took the world by storm. “You’ve got to admire that spirit!”).
Armed with an intimate knowledge of the modern licensing process from all possible angles, she landed the FAC gig just over a year ago as part of a reshuffle and pledged to campaign for a “sustainable, innovative and ethical” music business.
And that’s exactly what she’s been doing quietly for the last 15 months, on the basis that “if you use music and you’re giving access to music, you have a responsibility for that content, and to respect it, and to pay those who lend it”. Later in the year, she plans to launch the FAC equivalent of a kitemark, endorsing good practice amongst those signing contracts with artists.
Now, however, she wants to make some noise, with her first interview since taking the FAC role (with Music Week, of course). In person, she’s relentlessly upbeat about the industry and the times ahead (apart from the biz’s gender pay gap, which she describes as “downright inexcusable”), but has a hint of steel behind her sunny worldview that suggests a formidable negotiator.
Time then, for Caswell to retreat from the chaos of South London for some herbal tea and a chat with us about streaming, copyright and why the music industry could yet save Brexit…
How has your first year at the FAC been?
“Inspiring and exhausting, in equal measure. I’m surrounded every day by interesting and inspiring people, such as our young group of artists who are very switched on and have really guided our support for artists in terms of looking at them as multi-faceted small businesses. And also, of course, my board, who have the kind of experience of the business you can’t buy. It’s been a real lesson for me to use that negotiating experience on the policy stage, and to continue the great work of getting the FAC at the business and the policy table, but also to play the home and away game in terms of growing the community, growing the value of being part of that community, and growing the validation of being an artist, and all the value they bring to the economy.”
Is your own lack of experience of being an artist ever an issue when dealing with your board or your members?
“I can certainly relate to it, in terms of being in this business for so many years and in so many different aspects. But I see myself as representative of those artists, whether they’re just starting out or, as Nick Mason is, after many years of doing it. If you don’t take in that experience and don’t take in their perspectives, then we’re not really representative.”
Your members range from just-starting-out DIY musicians to international superstars. Is it difficult to get them to speak with one voice on key issues?
“Well, why should every artist, who spends their career being unique, speak with a singular voice? This is more of a harmony really: there are shared concerns, shared frustrations. We don’t struggle to speak with one voice; in fact, we attend to each other, and we’ve found consensus across the creative side of the business. Artists these days are writers, producers, distributors in their own right, so we have a lot of empathy with those aspects of the business. But also, there’s a real need to drive up standards across the board. It’s always said that it’s difficult to speak to artists – but it seems to me a bit of a habit in the industry to use the word ‘difficult’ where others might use ‘fake news’. It’s very dismissive, and it’s very easy [to use it to describe] an articulate woman who is therefore ‘difficult’, or an artist who won’t speak up on issues that they may not want to articulate… It’s not ‘difficult’, you just need to engage with people, and engage with them in a way that makes sense for them, and resonates with them. The artists I work with care about a lot of things, so it’s just a matter of trying to find them a good forum.”
So does the industry take artists seriously enough?
“In some forms yes, but that’s one of the core reasons for the FAC existing; to give artists those voices. Knowledge is power. We are very much about emancipating artists to not only have a seat at those business tables, but also being validated as the experienced, articulate business people that they are. It’s our job to make sure that artists are taken seriously and given the opportunity to express themselves in that way. And we’re getting there. We’ve made sure that we are present at all the policy-making tables, we are very much present in the international debates, such as the current copyright debate. The reason the FAC was created was that many people speak on behalf of artists, and we continue to plough the furrow that, actually, you can talk directly to them. There’s nothing like getting knowledge at source. If you look at our advocate artists, they do that work for me! They represent completely different sectors, different genres, different stages of being an artist. They care about a range of things and are very articulate in expressing those, and they speak for themselves, they speak for their community, and they make my job easy in making sure that artists are taken seriously.”
What do you suspect people think of the FAC now? When it started, many seemed to see it as an add-on to the MMF…
“There’s a tradition of people speaking for artists, so perhaps it was just a break with tradition – heaven forfend they should speak for themselves! In any job, in any role, you prove your value around those tables and that’s what we do every day. But it’s also very important to do that at every stage. We’re trying to validate experiencing music at school age, right through to 40-years’ worth of experience. Every step of that is a very different experience, and we need to validate the whole line.”
How important is the progress of the new European Copyright Directive to your members?
“It’s very important for us to articulate that it’s the whole directive [that’s important], the whole package of modernising copyright. It’s us getting the slow horse of law up to speed with the fast pace of tech and music, to shine that disinfectant of sunlight onto things like transparency, and have them as principles of law rather than hypothetical ambitions. To underline who owns the rights, and to make the business fit for purpose in the core aspects of it, which is the content and the data, which of course the artists are the original creators of. We are working very collaboratively with our sister organisations to try to get that message across, whilst looking very much in the future. We need to make sure that we create a really sustainable world for our talent, and that’s right from school age through into building their businesses in our artist/entrepreneur programme.”
So why didn’t MEPS vote for it?
“Some of this argument has become a conversation it was never intended to be. Questions of human rights and copyright weren’t designed to be in the same conversation. Those conversations have rather overtaken the technical aspects and the rest of this hugely positive improvement that we’ve been working for. So that makes it very unclear for MEPs what’s the safe way to vote. It’s up to us now to really clarify that message, and make sure there’s a very positive and clear reason to support a modernised, healthy creative world.”
Was it a mistake for the biz to concentrate so much on Google’s tactics in the debate, rather than focus on the potential positives?
“There’s nothing helpful for any creators in being perceived to be anti-tech, anti-innovation. These are the exciting opportunities that are most akin to creators of music; there’s so many aspects of this that are best created together. There’s not an anti-tech feeling [amongst artists], and there is most certainly a need to sustain all those opportunities past this particular debate. That said, whether you are a tech start-up, or a creator of music, you need a level playing field, you need, as an innovator, to know that what you do in your business model to use content is the same for anyone using content, otherwise you have an increasingly lop-sided market. There [needs to be] that basic acknowledgement and respect for someone else’s stuff.”
So is it all going to be OK – and shouldn’t more artists be involved in the debate?
“The most important thing we can do is try to make a much clearer reality for those considering this debate. We’re trying to support the future of creative culture. And that shouldn’t be perceived as retrograde – we shouldn’t have another Napster moment of seeming too restrictive or behind the curve, but those elements of fair play across innovation and fair pay for all creators are almost impossible to avoid. The best thing we can do is make people clearly understand what we are aiming for. Many of our members did get involved. But it doesn’t matter how many people get involved, how big they are, how passionate they are, if the noise is overwhelming, and the messages are different. We are all working hard, so a bit of loud harmony on this is much needed. And that’s from everybody in the business. We’re not falling short of artists mobilising; we have another chance to do exactly that, so we will.”
Another issue you’ve spoken out about is the distribution of Spotify equity stakes to labels. Are the artists actually seeing enough from that process?
“The proof is very much yet to be seen. This is a slow process. We absolutely applaud those who have been on the front foot to say that they would distribute to everyone under their licence and, from someone who’s done enough of those deals, I would struggle to understand how some could be included and others excluded if all of them are monetised in the same deal. That is still yet to be played out. When we talk about modernising the process of the music business, that should include every way that you benefit from the use of someone’s copyright – and this is just one part of where we’d like to see fair play.”
Generally speaking, has streaming been good or bad for artists?
“It’s difficult to say if something’s good or bad when it’s inevitable, but you see a healthy music industry now, which should mean that it’s healthy for artists. We are on point to make sure the right people are getting the right rewards from it. There are huge benefits of streaming in terms of the ability to reach your fans – it’s about creating your own fanbase and ecosystem online, and that is something we value. The shock [decline] in royalties from the traditional expectations is still reverberating around the industry, but [streaming] is proving now to be something scalable. What’s interesting about streaming is the long tail that it’s creating – that gives potentially more opportunities for artists to earn over a longer period, if not perhaps getting the immediate returns they might have been used to in royalty terms. It’s part of the FAC’s role to help artists capitalise on all the services out there and know which ones are the best for them to both reach their fans and make some money – and one size doesn’t fit all.”
Where do you stand on artists directly licensing their music to streaming services, as has apparently been happening with Spotify?
“Artists should be able to take any deal that’s good for them. So let’s make the most of all of these opportunities. Having said that, I don’t think I’ve seen DSPs’ overt ambitions to be record labels. That’s not going to be practical for every artist and every DSP Those deals tend to be done with artists that are pretty big anyway, and have a big team, but if there are other opportunities out there for artists to grow, then we would encourage them to take them. We just want to make sure there’s a standard and a transparency for any kind of deal.”
How close is your dream of a sustainable, innovative and ethical business?
“We have a very innovative business. And we have a generation of business creative people who are more broadly ethical than you could have necessarily taken for granted in other walks of life. Whether that’s sustainable or not… We are in a difficult time right now. Digital, whilst it has so many opportunities, also amplifies the work it takes to have any success.”
And Brexit looks like it could hit independent artists hard…
“That’s why movement of touring and collaboration across borders is absolutely paramount to artists – live is the survival revenue stream for a huge swathe of artists. It’s something that makes sense to politicians as well. Whereas we may have various convoluted and technical arguments, it’s very clear that we need to have the ability to collaborate and tour as part of the DNA of the business. We have some way to go for solutions, but it’s one of the areas that is clearest for policy makers in some aspects. The music industry is a good litmus test for Brexit in general, because every aspect of business is important to music, whether it’s IP, movement of people, physical product, import and export, collaborations... All of these things affect the music industry. Perhaps politicians could use the music industry as a test case; if they can get it right for music, then they have it correct [for everyone].”
Where do you want the FAC to be in five years’ time?
“The FAC is on track to be as much of a movement as it is a trade body, for all of the reasons we talk about, whether it’s making the business better for creators, working with innovation, being more inclusive… The FAC can only get bigger, and we are the sum of our parts. So I’d like to see the community in five years’ time be five times the size. There are so many things we have to do, so many of the things we have talked about that the artists, the creators of music, should be central to. We could be part of a sea change over the next five years.”
And how about you? Are you here for the long haul?
“This is a role that includes everything: rights, personal welfare, education, promotion, technology… It’s not a job you could readily get bored in, that’s for sure! It’s certainly not a job I’m ever going to have a quiet day in and, if that’s what you want from a job, which I do, to always learn and keep growing, then I’ve got many years’ work to do.”