An open letter to the music industry from the Black Music Coalition

On March 10, Music Week published an interview with Gamma founder Larry Jackson and UK president Ben Cook, in which they addressed the controversial fallout from Cook’s appearance in blackface at a fancy dress party in 2012 when he dressed ...

Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

As you may have seen, Music Venue Trust launched its 2022 annual report at the end of January. The report provided comprehensive data about the grassroots music venue sector and attracted a lot of press and parliamentary interest. There were some key concerns highlighted in responses to the report, things that have been covered many times in this column and in Music Week generally: VAT on UK tickets is too high, the business rates system is broken and grassroots music venues should enjoy the same protections in law as other culturally important spaces.  However, it wasn’t these concerns or requests to the government that attracted the most comment, but MVT’s position on the building of new UK arenas, which provoked an outraged reaction from some potential arena operators. They responded by stating their good intentions and how committed they are to grassroots venues and new talent. That’s lovely to hear. But as my grandmother used to say, “Fine words butter no parsnips”.  There seemed to be some confusion about our intent, and whether MVT was ‘picking on’ specific new arenas or companies’ commitments to these issues. So, let’s clear that up. Here is our position, one which we believe is incredibly reasonable...  MVT believes that no more arenas should open to host live music events in the UK until we can guarantee they have a reliable and sustainable future talent pipeline that warrants them being opened.  The future must be based on the UK’s ability to continue to nurture and develop new artists to fill the stages of these arenas. The research and development work that is required for this costs money. It’s costing grassroots venues £79 million a year, which they can’t continue to invest on their own. And that’s not through a lack of will, they are simply no longer able to. Due to that economic reality, Music Venue Trust believes that every arena opening in the UK should be able to demonstrate how it’s going to make a financial contribution to this research and development work. If it can’t, the arena shouldn’t be opened, because it doesn’t have a future.  We’ve said that every ticket sold for every show at these new venues must contain a contribution into the grassroots circuit. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t get planning permission or be licensed. Whenever an operator is granted permission to open an arena, they should commit to a policy of investment into research and development. And we don’t mean a token donation every so often to comply with a Corporate Social Responsibility policy or as a PR exercise. Every single ticket, every single show.  Argue us out of that position if you think you can. I know that there are some people in these companies creating arenas who would like to, but I don’t believe the public or MPs share their views. My personal view is that, ultimately, debating our position won’t have any impact on the final outcome, there will have to be a contribution from every arena show into the grassroots circuit. The whole country is fed up with venues closing, leaving artists nowhere to play while huge companies persuade authorities to let them open enormous spaces that don’t replace what is lost.  Music belongs to all of us and in all of our communities. It needs to be accessible, affordable and available. If we can’t find a way to do that ourselves, it will be done to us.  The question isn’t whether these arenas are going to be making a contribution to the work our grassroots music venues do to create the talent on which they depend, it is whether they will do it willingly. Be sensible, work with MVT as joint stakeholders, or wait until the next government gets fed up with what’s happening and taxes every ticket to make it happen.  Let me conclude the column this month by being very blunt: Madison Square Garden Company, ASM Global, YTL Corporation, NEC Group, Oakview International Group, Live Nation. You are the companies that want to open and operate these new arenas. This is the choice you have to make, an investment programme you have a stake in. Structured, reasonable, effective and meaningful. This is a partnership with MVT that sees your investment guarantee the UK will continue to produce the best new talent in the world to fill your arenas for years to come.  Or you can do nothing and end up with a tax that disappears into government coffers, some lost in administration, some siphoned away to aid projects that do nothing to support the future of our industry or your new arena.  We want to work with you. We want to believe we can do this. The problem isn’t going to go away. It’s manageable, solvable and has little to no impact on your bottom line if we manage it ourselves. All you have to do is pick up the phone, sit down with us and make it happen.

Art-ificial intelligence: Why AI isn't the only tech challenge for the future of artistic expression

From press outlets dissecting articles written entirely by ChatGPT to David Guetta deploying a deepfake Eminem verse in a new song, it’s been impossible to ignore the headlines surrounding artificial intelligence of late.  Now, as someone whose childhood years were partly defined by watching Terminator 2 a very healthy three or four times a day, I should be predisposed to fear any innovation that could one day lead to our annihilation at the hands of our robot overlords.  While I still vividly remember the curdling feeling in my stomach the first time I heard Drowned In The Sun – an AI programme’s attempt at writing a Nirvana song in 2021 – oddly, I’m not especially fearful of the changes we’re seeing right now. And no, ChatGPT did not write that last bit for me. What’s been occupying my thoughts lately is not so much what human artistic expression may be surrendering to AI, but rather what has already been lost without even taking it into account. Over many years we’ve all heard artists, songwriters, managers, executives, producers, cultural critics and more – and at all ages and levels of experience – airing their grievances about some of the perceived strictures on creativity these days.  If you buy into these regular criticisms, you soon start to question what the real difference is between a machine learning how to sound like a human, and a human learning to sound like an algorithm. You soon start to question what the real difference is between a machine learning how to sound like a human, and a human learning to sound like an algorithm At least from my own personal experience of interviewing people from all sides of the music industry, many establish a common ground in bemoaning how many chart hits sound so similar, so beholden to the sonic dictates of the ruling algorithms or social media consumption habits. Others cite how cloyingly pristine every mix is now, with all rough edges and vocal quirks Auto-Tuned into an inoffensive sheen. Where, they ask, are the imperfections? Where is the humanity in the actual sounds being produced? You may agree with some of those recurring critiques. You may well vehemently disagree with all of them. Either way, it’s a discussion that’s been put into sharp focus in an age of AI artists getting signed to record labels and deepfake tracks from dead superstars. Yes, a lot of people will spend time worrying if AI technology is stripping the humanity out of music in the coming months. But for now at least, I think we need to be less focused on computer programmes imitating our artists, and altogether more concerned about artists being conditioned to behave like machines. PHOTOS: JMEnternational

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