Where is music journalism heading in the digital age? What are the implications of website and podcast taking over print and broadcast media? How do you manage a successful independent record label? These are some of the questions brought forward during the recent Archipelago Festival, which features three guests from the UK: Chris Cooke (founder, managing director of Complete Music Update), Gareth Main (writer for The Quietus, podcaster) and Simon Raymonde (musician, founder of noted independent label Bella Union).
“In the digital age, no one knows any sustainable business model for music journalism. Advertising or sponsored content will not fund music journalism; in fact, it is a slippery slope.” - Gareth Main (The Quietus)
Noting that neutrality is a key element in any journalism, he exemplifies The Guardian as among the conscientious media outlets and reputable in its operations by directly asking for funding from its readers. “It does take a lot of money to put together an article. You have to pay the writer and the photographer, not to mention the travelling cost.”
Chris agrees and injects that his media takes a similar approach. “We do premium content service at CMU, in addition to business training, conference and music industry class at music schools,” he says, before adding that in order for a media to diversify its business, it will have to strengthen its brand and knowledge first. “It’s true that if you want to generate a sustainable income, doing different things in the music industry is the key,” he asserts. Using the term ‘portfolio career’, Chris explains that the common practice among music writers and industry practitioners is to “do different things that bring in money” as opposed to a single job.
This realisation was also what prompted Gareth to slowly move away from traditional music writing to podcasting.
“I found it to be a great tool to promote music, especially the type of music I like,” he says, referring to his weekly programme, Independent Music Podcast, which focuses on experimental electronic music. Simplicity is also a major reason.
“Writing an article takes a longer amount time. With a podcast, I could simply listen to thousands of bands before recording it, pick 10 acts to discuss and edit the content for a couple of hours before it goes out. It’s more liberating.” - Gareth Main (The Quietus)
However, that does not mean the old ways are entirely out of fashion. “When it comes to music writing, I think now it’s more about research, hardwork and investigation,” he comments, claiming that his Indonesian visit was part of his journalism work. “I met a lot of exciting musicians in Bandung and Jakarta that I wouldn’t have met on the internet. Going to a new place and understanding the cultural context that informs the music therein is more fascinating and an increasingly more important aspect of music journalism. And I think we’re moving towards that direction.”
Meanwhile, Simon Raymonde believes that the important aspect of running a label is the love for music itself. Best known as one third of the Cocteau Twins, the renowned Scottish outfit that defined the sound of dream pop in the 80s and 90s, his label Bella Union was initially founded solely to host the band’s output. “Six months after we founded it, the band broke up,” he looks back. “To be honest, running a label was never in my interest. But then it just became my thing, a distraction from the break-up of the band,” he admits, despite adding that the first few years were especially challenging with more than a handful of trials and errors. After signing a host of successful acts, including Beach House and Fleet Foxes, the label eventually found its footing and is now celebrating its 21st year.
“As you go along running a record label, you evaluate the things that don’t work out right. Slowly but surely, you find the right people working for you. We needed to go through that whole process in order to develop as a label.” - Simon Raymonde (Bella Union)
Another key to the label’s success, Simon says, is putting quality ahead of quantity. “We don’t put out a lot of releases in the market. We only sign artists or bands that strike a nerve with us, and I think the key to that in itself is to be true to what’s inside you as a musician. These days, a lot of people are trying too hard to fit into what people like. Just close your eyes and do your own thing. But also think smart and think ahead of the game.”
Similarly, Chris says the current state of the music industry, where the traditional model has collapsed and its movers and shakers are finding new ways to make profits, makes it more creative that it has ever been. “More people are writing and talking about music than ever before. Clearly people still love music and want a relationship with artists, but at the same time, everyone is still figuring out how to come up with a sustainable business model for this type of creativity,” he elaborates. Gareth concurs and advises music media to stick with their niche while building their audience. “I don’t see any issue about there not being any huge music media. From a fan point of view, a lot of niches – small, diverse blogs and podcasts – are a good thing. It’s about making more types of music more available and more people exposed to them.”