The Visit – Showcase Scotland Expo

Jiří Moravčík’s Interview with Lisa Whytock

So the first question is – why have you decided to do Showcase Festival this way? What do you think will be the outcome of this?

So – we do two showcase festivals. One is in January, which is much bigger and it’s got 180 delegates – but those delegates must apply to come, because we’ve always got a waiting list. So we’ve got 180 places but we’ve maybe got 250 people that we would like to come. So there’s no subsidy, no payment to help them come here, it’s all commercial. To some extent there’s 22 different countries on average that would attend, so we sat down as a music industry and decided which parts of the world would be the most important for us in terms of exporting Scottish music, and we decided on Canada, Australia, Germany and France, and for different reasons they were the most important territories. And we decided that it would be really useful to get a small concentrated group of people together to look at bands that we had selected as a music industry, and the idea is to have agent, festivals, distributors, press … so that if people like a band, that band can get everything done, at one time. So that’s the idea.

When you say ‘we’, who do you mean? You mean Active Events?

No. The project is an idea that active events had because we saw what Showcase Scotland and Celtic Connections was doing, but understood that it was one event over the year and there was no export office for Scottish music, so to speak, so we proposed to Creative Scotland that we could come up with Showcase Scotland Expo, and we put together a steering group, not a board but a steering group, of music industry professionals to help us reach the objectives and decide collectively what it is that people really want. It’s not just me saying ‘this is what I think’, there’s other agents, record labels, journalists, funding agencies – I think there’s maybe 14 people on that steering group, including artists – there’s two bands that also sit on that.

I think you have already answered my second question – Is there any export music office in Scotland? So there is not?

No, but I suppose that what we are doing would be considered to be doing that, but we have to apply annually for funding so it is not secure. We have to apply every single year for money

So who is financing this event?

This one is financed by Creative Scotland and PRS [Performing Rights Society] for music. PRS is the song-writing royalty collection organisation. So they are funding it, but it is predominantly from Creative Scotland. Obviously delegates are paying registration fees – that also helps. The Tolbooth Theatre charges nothing for the venue, the Drygate Theatre and St. Luke’s charge hardly anything for the venues, so the venues are investing and we’re investing. The artists get fifty pounds a person to play, with no travel expense or hotels, so everybody is pooling resources together to make it work – so that’s how we do it – on a shoestring.

Do you think the Showcase Festival is helping the export of Scottish bands?

Definitely, we had the first deal with Canada and America, and actually we did 21 bands then, and we had slightly more delegates then, but it is important to keep the numbers small because otherwise you can’t do any work, but in Canada and America we had maybe ten more delegates that came in with seven Scottish bands that got agency deals, and the agency deals to us are probably the most important – because that’s what keeps it alive. So there were seven of them that got agency deals and they have all toured Canada and America for at least two months since two years ago, so it’s definitely working. The bands were Ross [Ainslie] and Jarlath [Henderson], Breabach, Mànran (who are not here), Skerryvore (who you’ll see today), Dallahan (who are not here) and Finding Albert (who are not here). So that’s what we’ve done the recoding off on Monday that you can see the bands that previously got signed. Those seven bands were making on average about a hundred thousand dollars per tour – American dollars – per artist. That’s an average of about seven hundred thousand dollars they made on those tours, and we spent eighty thousand doing it. So it’s a complete return on investment – which we have to prove, because if I can’t prove the return on investment the funders won’t fund it, and I have to prove it every single year.

Do you think that in America and Canada it makes a difference that there are huge Scottish communities? Meaning that the music is more welcome?

Yes I think it’s easier, it’s much easier in Canada and America than it is anywhere else, but in Australia – that’s also an English-speaking country obviously – there were no Scottish bands going there apart from Shooglenifty. It helps that because I’ve been doing agency for twenty-five years, and because for example you booked Bob Geldof six years ago, and then booked Treacherous Orchestra – I know that inviting you here is worth it, because you’ve been to Celtic Connections before and understand it. You’ve not been for a long time, and these guys are here, then I know I know it’s worth you coming in to festival this year and next year it’s the weekend after Rudolstadt [music festival in Germany], so most people here have been invited for a reason, it’s not just let’s get them to come. In Australia we had literally no Scottish bands touring, and now if you look at any Australian festival, any folk festival in Australia, they are likely to have two Scottish artists on their programme.

So it definitely helped?

Definitely. It definitely works.

Another question. Are there any workshops for the bands to learn how to behave on stage, how to communicate with the audience? Do you do something like that?

No. But we do how the business works. There’s an event that we also run; part of a festival that we programme, and it’s not a folk festival, it’s all genres of music, and we do what we call an artists’ day, which is free. We did it in September, and so we invited panels from WOMEX, from Germany actually, agents from Germany, the French music bureau, publishers from France and the music industry from London. We had a whole day of, ‘if you get booked in Germany, what is the overseas tax situation?’ You need to understand what the tax implications are, because of the local taxes and the national taxes. We did media training, so they were all filmed by professional journalists or recorded on radio, and were then given feedback as to how they did. I can send you information on how we did that – I can sent you the whole itinerary, but it is not part of our programme, it’s something that we choose to do when we can raise the income.

How is traditional music doing in the music industry globally? Is there any Scottish music in the mainstream radio, or is it just the BBC2 [a TV channel] awards like I’ve heard?

It’s mainly the BBC2. Some of it crosses over, like Bella Hardy who was the very first band that you saw. She has crossed over. Some of it, but she’s not really traditional folk music, she’s more a songwriter. Some of it crosses over to Radio Six, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Radio Six but it is the main digital music channel on the BBC, and it’s started doing a lot of the more progressive programmes that have come from Radio One or Radio Two and have gone to Radio Six. It does cross over into television, into music television, mainstream music television, but it will never get Radio One play [i.e. it will not be played on the main pop music station] ever. But the interesting thing is that in terms of CD sales, or album sales, our bands are selling albums, so they’re still able to earn a living out of album sales, whereas your mainstream pop artists are fucked with their album sales, but in this genre of music they’re still selling albums. It might only be like Breabach which has sold 15 thousand physical [copies], and I know that because I manage the record label. So we’ve done 15 thousand physical CDs, but they’ve also done a whole bunch of digital. On top of that they own that album – that’s 150 thousand pounds physical profit.

Well done!

I know, right, so that’s still happening in this genre of music. I think it’s partly  because  the  audiences,  the  demographic  of  the  audience,

is really different.  On a Breabach or even a Treacherous Orchestra show with a live audience, you’ll get some 20-year-olds and some 50-year-olds, right across the spectrum, and I think that’s why. They get a lot of press. I would say that Scottish folk music in the UK – in the whole of the UK not just Scotland – is probably amongst the most popular genres of music. Definitely. If you went to Manchester, to pick a town in England, and googled genres of music, googled folk music in Manchester, and just have a look at what is coming up, so much of that will be Scottish music. In Scotland it’s the most successful music genre that there is – incredibly successful. I mean from mainstream music you have T in the Park. And that’s it. For folk music you have Belladrum, Knockengorrech, these are all green field sites. You then have Skye Live, which is this weekend, which is electronic music and folk music. That’s the genres. I mean Treacherous Orchestra, Breabach and Capercaillie are all playing that, but so are massive DJs – it’s really strange but it works. So that’s Skye Live and then you have Shetland Folk Festival, the Orkney Folk Festival, the Arran Folk Festival and Celtic Connections.

So there are hundreds of fairly small events everywhere …

The smallest of those are Shetlands and Orkney. Orkney is now 7 thousand. Belladrum is 25 thousand, Celtic Connections is 250 thousand, Knockengorrech is 5 thousand – so actually if you want to earn a living as a musician from Scotland, this kind of music is probably your best … – that’s why you’ve got all that fiddles sounding like guitars, you know – they’re all experimenting with what those instruments can do musically, completely experimenting. If you ask any of those musicians who influenced them, most of them will say Martyn Bennett, most of them, it’s really interesting …

He was a pioneer, Martyn, connecting the traditional and the …

… contemporary, yeah, so most of them will say Martyn influenced them, and that’s why so many of them perform in the Grit [name of an album] Orchestra, because they are like, this is the person who changed our musical horizons. It’s very interesting actually. I love it. But my Background is not folk music, it’s not. My background is mainstream music, pop music, and then when I discovered Martyn Bennett, that’s what changed the way that I worked.

Last year there was a reissue of the album ‘Gift’ and the last song was made by a student, Martyn’s student …

There was a concert, after Martyn died, with the students, and so we had Peter Gabriel – because Peter Gabriel recorded Blue Sky, and we had the students – what was that called? – there were students that had been working on an album with Martyn, but not Grit, a separate album.

We are in the process of creating a music export office in the Czech Republic, so we are interested in how these things can work, so I want to ask you what kind of institution Creative Scotland is? And what is your deal or connections with them and PRS, and maybe also with some Scottish Council?

British Council supports …

No – not British Scottish Council?

No. Creative Scotland is the Arts Council. Creative Scotland is the new word for the Scottish Arts Council. It’s a public organisation that is funded by the Scottish government and the lottery, the National Lottery, to fund the arts. It funds opera, ballet, theatre – every genre, everything …

So it’s export oriented? Or it is here in Scotland for local events also? For schools?

If you go online – the best thing to do is go online – www.creativescotland.com – and there’s guidelines in there that will tell you who they fund and how they fund. There’s different criteria, because they understand that Scotland is so small, there’s only five million people, there’s no way that musicians can be professional by living and working in Scotland – it’s not really possible. They understand that. That’s one of the criteria. It’s an application process really – you just write a funding application and they say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The same with PRSF …

Creative Scotland was invented by the Ministry of Culture or the government?

Yes, the government.

The government? So from above and not from below?

Yes, but it’s shaped from below. What it does is … it’s hard because in order to do the export work our funding application was sound but it was accompanied by a letter from 316 musicians, and they said ‘we believe in what Showcase Scotland is doing – you have to fund it’. So there’s a whole area of work that we do with all of the musicians to make sure that the artists support… because there is no point in doing it unless the artists support it.

With PRS, how does it work? We have a similar organisation the Czech Republic but it’s still not supporting this kind or artist …

Well they should. The PRS have a certain amount of money that they will collect – I don’t know how it works – but they have and it is invested back into artists to help PRS continue to have professional musicians, because without the professional musicians PRS would not exist. As an organisation they understand that, so they are reinvesting. Export is obviously really important because the artists must continue.

PRS is a private company?

No.

Government?

No … it’s a membership organisation – so musicians become members of PRS and authorise PRS to collect royalties on their behalf. PRS operate in Europe, PRS is in Europe and I don’t know if there is a sister organisation in the Czech Republic or not, I don’t know.

There is, like in Germany and France, we have OSA.

Right – so it’s the same thing. It’s not much, I mean I work with 125 thousand pounds a year from Creative Scotland. Not a lot of money. PRS have given us ten thousand, so the difference is huge. 125 thousand is honestly not a lot of money when you are considering that this event cost fifty [thousand] to do and the Australian – you know that you are flying two bands to Australia, two bands to Canada – it’s a lot of money – so 125 thousand doesn’t go very far.
It’s a good idea if you can do it and tie it to the festival then that will be even better. I think the difficulty with this is that people are not seeing bands performing in front of audiences. At Celtic connections at least you would see a band perform in front of an audience.

All the support is really on an annual level? You have to ask annually [for funding]? No far horizon [long-term funding]?

That’s because I am commercial, because of the way that my company is set up. If I was a public-funded organisation and didn’t do anything else, no agency work, no programming of festivals, then I would be eligible for three years’ funding, but if I didn’t do the agency I wouldn’t know who to invite. It’s crazy and I think that most of the export offices around the world are run by agents or people that have been agents. Almost every single one of them.
You should speak to Georgie, who is here, from La Fira Mediterrània, because in October he is organising a meeting in La Fira of export offices to do exactly this, to share information about how we all work. You should come to that. And he’s going to be here. So you should come to that – I think it’s at the beginning of October – the first week in October – or September , and talk to all of the export offices about how they are set up, that’s the idea.

Thank you very much Lisa.